Why I Write What I Write

It seems weird to justify what I write in my own blog but I was recently sent a piece by Mark Llobrera that resonated with me and I wanted to spin off of it.

The fear of stating the obvious is one of my primary personal roadblocks to writing.

I have a horrible time deciding whether or not I should write something because I feel like I shouldn’t take the time if it won’t be original.  I fear that more than I fear writing something people won’t read.

Once I’ve written something, I’m disappointed if it doesn’t get a response, but that doesn’t really kick in until after I’ve published it.

The funny thing is the quote from The Web Ahead that inspired Llobrera’s piece:

I wish people would write more… In the future, we would have a better understanding of what people are thinking now. I’m very glad that I’ve been doing my blog for 15 years. I can go back to 2002 and get a feel for what it was like to build websites. Back then we thought X was true or hadn’t even considered Y. You forget these things. Having these written records—not of anything important or groundbreaking—but just the day-to-day. The boring stuff. That’s actually what’s most interesting over time.

I’ve specifically stated that this is why I write up my code samples the way that I do.  I want to document what I was thinking at the time that I wrote a certain piece of code.  It may not be original or it may become outdated but it explains how I think.

For some reason, while I apply that logic to code samples, I give myself a different standard for my free writing.

I think what I need to remember is that I’m writing, first and foremost, because I like writing.  If I want to put something to paper (so to speak), it shouldn’t matter if someone else has as well.

Last week I threw out a whole piece I’d written about WordPress issue #34976.  I threw it out because I had dug into why WordPress plugins weren’t updating for me and was writing up my findings when I discovered that WP already knew, so I figured I shouldn’t bother.  Had I published it, though, it would show my thought process through tracking down the bug, which is something I say I want to do.

Clearly I have work to do on this and reading that piece makes me realize it.

Thoughts on The Force Awakens

Like any self-respecting nerd, I have capital-t Thoughts on The Force Awakens.  I didn’t see it on opening night but I did make it before the weekend was out.  I’m sure my thoughts aren’t anything new but I want to get them out of my head so they’re coming out here.

It should go without saying but there will be spoilers ahead.  Sorry, no getting around that.

I should also state off the bat that I loved the movie.  I’m going to focus on things that could come across as complaints but I feel like they’re nit-picks more than anything.  The Force Awakens was beautifully put together.  Well-acted, visually-stunning, with an incredible John Williams score.

That said…

I came away from the film feeling like it was a “darker and edgier” remake of A New Hope.  Orphan from a desert planet meets an unexpected older mentor, finds that s/he is force-sensitive, sees said mentor struck down by a dark Jedi in a black suit and mask, then barely escapes as a planet-destroying superweapon is wiped out by a rag-tag fleet.

But wait!  It’s gender-bent!  And the mentor is killed by his own son!  And the superweapon is even bigger!  And people actually get stabbed/sliced/etc. by lightsabers!  It’s like they took the Battlestar Galactica playbook and applied it to Star Wars.

It’s awesome.  It’s larger in scope than Episode IV.  But I think it’s impossible not to make those comparisons.

Additionally I have an issue with the balance of power between Rey and Finn.  Rey is a complete badass.  Pilot, mechanic, handy with a blaster and, apparently, extremely strong with the Force. Finn…  Well, comparatively, he’s okay, I guess.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff calling Rey a Mary Sue (or other worse, misogynistic things) but I actually have no problem with her character.  I just wish we saw more of what makes Finn tick.  This is a guy who deserted the First Order because it was The Right Thing to Do.  Who picked up a lightsaber because it was the only weapon available and he needed to fight.  Who used that lightsaber – with no training – to fight the closest thing to the personification of evil that he’s ever seen.

That’s badass, too, but seems overshadowed by just how incredible Rey is.  Not saying anything should be taken from Rey, I just would have liked more backstory for Finn.

That said, I imagine backstory for both characters will be prevalent in future films.

On the Dark Side, we have Kylo Ren.  Clearly this is a heavily-conflicted character.  It’s impossible not to compare him to Anakin Skywalker (which, as he basically worships Darth Vader, is pretty much the point).  I think he could actually be more of a bad guy than Vader as Anakin was pretty much tricked into joining the Dark Side.  Han Solo tells his son that he’s been tricked, but I think Ben chose of his own free will to become Kylo Ren.  We may learn otherwise in future films – redemption arcs are big in this series – but it seems to me that Ben didn’t want the power of the Dark Side for any noble purpose like Anakin, he just wanted power.

Seeing him without his helmet adds to that, I think.  He’s not a deformed half-man confined to a suit like Vader.  He’s a human who chooses the suit.  He can take it off.  He just doesn’t want to.

Speaking of the Dark Side…  As Rey embraces the force in her battle with Kylo Ren, it sure seems like she’s putting a lot of hate and vengeance into it.  We know those lead to the Dark Side.  I wonder if anything will come of that.

If the new trilogy is darker and edgier, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Rey to turn to the Dark Side, with her conversion showing Ben just what a horrible thing the Dark Side is and pushing him back to the Light Side.

Google Works in Mysterious Ways

I was in a pairing session with one of my teammates earlier today and we stumbled into an interesting little bit of inspiration.

Working in Javascript, we were thinking about splitting some values while iterating through an array but that didn’t really feel like the right answer.  Looking for some kind of better solution, my teammate Googled “split” looking for documentation and similar examples.

I immediately laughed because a Google Maps search result was included, which was completely outside the context of what we were searching for (though a valid search result for the simple query we entered).  As I explained why I was laughing, though, something hit us:

That gut feeling was right.  We didn’t want to split anything.  We wanted to apply a map to it.

I guess Google gave us our answer.

Full Stack Engineer vs. Web Developer

When I started my professional career at Michigan State University’s Division of University Relations, I was a web developer.  I wrote PHP and ASP and JavaScript and HTML and sliced up images in Photoshop and designed MySQL databases.  I had to do a little bit of server management.  I also trained clients in how to use the systems I built for them but that’s beside the point right now.

When I made the jump to TechSmith Corporation I retained the title of web developer.  I wrote ASP and JavaScript and HTML and didn’t slice up as many images but did work with MSSQL databases.  I had to do a little bit of server management.  I also wrote VB6 apps.

Over the years at TechSmith the ASP and VB6 (mostly) gave way to C# but that wasn’t the only change.  Somewhere along the line I became a software engineer.

I can’t speak for the industry as a whole but at TSC there was an impression that web devs weren’t “real developers” compared to the software engineers working on the company’s desktop products.  So everyone became software engineers and everyone was equal, even if the job didn’t change at all.

Fast forward to several years ago and the term “full-stack engineer” starts being thrown around.  A full-stack engineer being someone who writes back-end code and front end code and maybe does some image manipulation and can do some server management…  And I fail to see how this isn’t what we used to call a web developer.

As an industry, did we create a new title just to get the word “engineer” into it?  “No, I’m not one of those slacker web developers.  I’m a full-stack engineer.”  I get that the term became famous when Facebook was (supposedly) only hiring full-stack devs but why give it that name when “web developer” already meant that.

For a long time, even after my title at TechSmith changed, I defined myself as a web developer.  One of my mentors called me out on it and I couldn’t explain why I clung to that label.  Maybe it’s because, the way I see it, “web developer” is just less of a mouthful than “full-stack engineer” and more accurate than “software engineer.”

If there’s supposed to be a difference between web developer and full-stack engineer, I don’t see it.

I should say that I don’t actually have a problem with the full-stack engineer title.  Web development has evolved.  There are fewer gaps between web development and mobile development than there were a decade ago, for example.  I just see web developer and full-stack engineer as the same thing and think it’s jarring to see the titles used as if they’re not.